Hey all. This post has been rattling around in my head for the past several weeks, so I’m going to take a crack at collecting my thoughts here. Topics include: graduating college, family stuff, losing friends over the 2016 election and making plans for the future.
I also want to say, right off the bat, for some cultural context- I’m a white woman, approaching 30, single with no kids, living in the south an hour outside a big city, I’m a first generation college student and I grew up working/lower middle class.
Okay. So I am graduating with my undergrad degree in two months. It’s taken me a long time to get here, and I know it’s a big accomplishment, and no one else in my immediate family has done it. My mom works at a grocery store and she’s 60, and she looks after my grandfather who’s in his 80s. I had no context at all growing up as far as what higher education was or how to achieve success in it. I didn’t get any help at my high school- I was smart, but depression pretty much ruled my life from late childhood on, which contributed to me consistently being a C student. It wasn’t really expected that I’d go to college or do anything with myself or my life.
There had also been a lot of trauma in my life in addition to there not being money for me to go to school- my dad died when I was young (drugs), my mom was in and out of my life due to addiction, I lost an aunt who was like my surrogate parent to HIV/AIDS when I was 9, her fiance (my uncle as far as I was concerned) shot himself 5 years later. It was rough, and it translated into a lot of neglect in my home with the adults around me being either cold or inconsistent because they were dealing with their own grief.
Basically, I was learning how to make do on my own from pretty early on, and feeding myself, teaching myself basic life skills, working to pay for my own things, et cetera, took over where typical high school things were for other kids (like college prep, parents taking them to look at universities, helping them through applications, celebrating the senior year, on and on.) Also my grandma, whom I lived with, was dying from lung cancer when I was in my senior year and we had her hospice care set up in the house. It made it really hard to focus on anything else.
Anyway. I wrote that to show some more context for what I’m sharing next. I had some friends I was really close to, who became more like my family than anybody I was related to at all. I had some rifts with some of them senior year of HS because I was pretty much hysterically depressed with everything that was going on in my home life, and there was no way they could’ve understood. I probably chalked it up at the time to them being rude and mean, but we were kids, and I see now how the deep dark place I was in came off as alienating and frustrating to a group of girls who just wanted to graduate and go to prom. I had very little skills or support to deal with what I was going through and they definitely didn’t either. It was too big for teenagers to handle alone.
In the midst of all of this though, I had my best friend who I’ll call Melissa and her boyfriend John. I had known Melissa since we were 7. They were the only people who really tried to understand where I was at and help me as much as they could. I spent a lot of time with them while shit was really bad at my house. They also got me close to their families and I got sort of a taste of what it felt like to be around people who were related and obviously loved each other and were a cohesive family (totally foreign concept to me at the time). They also got me involved with a life skills training seminar (best way I can describe it is like accelerated group therapy) that helped me considerably in starting to unpack a lot of the trauma. It was a huge shift for me.
I’ll try to speed through some details: John and Melissa get married when we are 21. Obama gets elected the first time shortly beforehand, I know that John’s family is well off financially and conservative (like I said, we are in the south), but his mom gets way into tea party stuff. I’m pretty green at this point when it comes to politics, but I know I’m definitely liberal. Melissa makes a passing comment to me at one point about how I’m “way out on the far left wing” but I don’t even think that’s true back then. I look back and it’s more clear to me that John’s mom was probably funneling through some tea party beliefs to them. Regardless, we stay really close for the next 4-5 years, and just don’t talk politics. We stay bonded through the training classes I did, there’s a volunteer element to it and John and Melissa and I all partake and continue bonding over that. During this time Melissa goes to college to become a teacher and John keeps failing out of junior college before he gives up and gets a tech job that doesn’t need a degree.
It’s also important to note that one of our other best friends from middle school on, Penny, is a lesbian, who’s been out since we were 11 or 12. John and Melissa are Republican but I guess my naive thinking was that of course they were going to be accepting in some ways because of Penny. They HAD to know that oppressing gay rights was wrong because they knew a gay person intimately.
When I’m about 25, I’m dating a guy I really like. He is bisexual. Things end up not panning out, and for whatever reason I mention some story about him to Melissa, and it’s somewhat related to the guy’s ex, who is male. She kind of freaks out and shuts down, and says it’s really weird for a guy to be bi, and thinks it’s good that I stopped seeing him. That was a significant crack in the veneer of our friendship, but I was also dealing with a lot of internalized biphobia then, due to my own same sex attraction I hadn’t told anybody about.
Shortly after this I decide to go back to college. I had tried in my early 20s but failed out due to depression. I’ve been in therapy for awhile at this point and this, combined with the skills I learned at the life coaching program and antidepressants, helps me feel like I can be successful. (And, I am. I’ve done really well. I’ll graduate with a 3.7 GPA.)
Part of the deal with me going back to school was that, naturally, my mind gets opened even further and I’m more and more convicted in my principles and liberal/progressive ideals. I start taking women’s and gender studies classes, which lead into advanced history, gender psychology, sexuality studies, etc etc. I’ve tapered off a lot in talking to Melissa and John because it’s crystal clear to me that our beliefs have become very different.
Jump forward to 2015. I go to hang out with Melissa and John at their house, for the first time in a long time, and election stuff gets brought up. John says very clearly that he’s conservative but that Trump is a madman and there’s no way he’d vote for him. Melissa complains passively about politics being pointless. I voice my disagreement and say no, politics are highly important because they affect people’s everyday lives, but it somehow stays amicable. Six months go by and he and Melissa have a baby. Penny babysits their kid a lot. Then, the facebook posts start. John is all of a sudden being vocal about his Trump support. Penny calls me sobbing because one of her oldest friends is supporting a man whose then-potential VP advocated electroshock gay conversion therapy.
Anyway. I know this post has been long. Thank you, if you’ve taken the time to read this far. I’ll wrap up where I am now. Here are these people, who were like the only light I had in a very dark tunnel for a long, significant portion of my life, who I loved more than my own blood, who helped me save myself, and I’ve watched them turn into something I find disgusting. It’s a year after the election almost, and it just hit me yesterday, when I was sending out invites for my graduation party, that I’m still furious with them, and I’m still hurting and grieving. I guess it’s just so easy to put people on a pedestal or want to expect better of them, but when you find out that somebody you love can be so selfish and compartmentalizing, it’s hard to turn that off. And, I don’t want to. I don’t want to be misguided into thinking anybody will behave a certain way without seeing for myself first. But, it was confusing- they’d shown me love and acceptance and charity. They claimed to be christian, and here they were silently supporting a serial rapist and philanderer, a con man, somebody who brazenly pissed all over the ideals of their supposed religion. Naturally though, I’m thinking of actual Jesus and not Republican Jesus who shits on the poor and wants corporations to have massive tax cuts. Big difference.
I’ll say that I was obviously very, very naive about aspects of my own white privilege until this all went down, just by the sheer fact of what a harsh blow it was and how blindsided I felt, even though there were small signs all along the way. I question if I should have been more forceful or forthcoming about defending my beliefs way earlier but part of growing up in where we came from is that it’s not polite to do that, and blah blah, passive femininity, don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. If I had to do over I would have asked harder questions more often and pushed buttons in hope that something would have shifted. I don’t know. Could have, would have, should have. I’m loud about where I stand now.
I did see them at a mutual friend’s wedding over the summer, and we had fun, because it was all of us from way back when- me, Melissa, John, Penny, our two other friends that comprised our group growing up, but it was kind of just a moment suspended in a time- a reprieve from our regular lives, and we haven’t spoken since. I had my wisdom teeth out over the summer, and it was kind of an ordeal- complex extractions, nerve damage, infection, a month of healing. The other girls in our high school friend group sent me a group text- “do you need anything? can we bring anything by? will you let us know, please?” Melissa wrote “I’ll pray for you.”
I guess it’s that I’m just now coming around to realizing that these were people I thought would be around for all my major life moments, and now I don’t want to see them at my graduation or maybe ever again. I wonder if there’s something that could be done on my part, but I don’t know. Not anytime soon, at least. At any rate, what the fuck would we even talk about or do if we were friends again...they have a kid and live in the suburbs an hour away. I’m single and living alone in a college town (and plan to stay that way unless someone just totally knocks my socks off, which I’m not opposed to but that’s for another post.) and planning for grad school and beyond. We aren’t even interested in any of the same things anymore.
Anyway. I know it’s extremely common for friendships to end, this one friendship just had a lot of significance and a lot of hurt tied up in its end. Like my therapist says, “for a reason, for a season”. They were there when I needed somebody desperately. They’ll always hold significance for that reason. I can love them for what they did for me then, but that doesn’t mean I have to forget all the negative that has happened or try to make space for them in my life today. This would probably all be different if they had made any effort at all to try and get in touch with me through any of this. I really tried for awhile, before shit got dark with the election. I gave the benefit of the doubt, I wanted it to work. I can’t anymore. I’m tired. I feel like I’ve done more than enough.
So I’m having this graduation party. And, I’m planning it and paying for it myself. Sometimes I have passing thoughts that I wish I had a tight knit family that was throwing one for me, but it’s cool that I’m able to do it for me, to celebrate me, and pick out exactly what I want, what food, what activities, what people I want to be there. My mom and I have gotten a lot closer as I’ve gotten older and found some forgiveness for her, and she’s been clean for over a decade now. She is making me a cake for the party. I’m relatively at peace. I’ve made my way through school. I don’t have a partner tying me down, which might have made me really sad once upon a time to think of being single at my age (and I am fully aware now that such a thought is ridiculous, I’m 29 not 87, but growing up in the south is a special kind of brainwashing when it comes to gender roles and your value as a woman once you’re a certain age). I’m feeling excitement about what is coming, but also some heartache as I see this big chapter of my life is closing. I turn 30 pretty soon after graduation. Lots of big changes.
I’m taking a year off before grad school. I hope to get to know myself again during my time off, and chart out some of who I want to become in the coming decade. I have some good friends that I have made in college coming to the grad party. I hope we stay in touch after I’m done with school, and I know I’ll make efforts to do so as long as they do too. I also look forward to making more connections in grad school and beyond. I do want to find a partner eventually, and it feels a little more pressing now that I’m 30, but I think a decent amount of that is cultural conditioning fucking me up. I just want to meet somebody good for me, who will love me through all my scars and the hard parts of where I’ve come from, but recognize and appreciate the hard work I have put in to be the person I am now. I want intentional relationships with people who I can share the whole me with.
Oh geez. That was a story I have needed to let out for awhile. Thanks for letting me share.